Game of the Week, in which I preview the best matchup available on national television, returns after a brief hiccup: A hurricane, Election day and a nor’easter pulled me away from watching basketball to do my actual job as a journalist. I won’t let it happen again.
I didn’t have television for a while, but I managed to watch basketball at my local Hooters. It was a beacon of warmth and beer and chicken and breasts in a cold, dark week.
The best game of the week is the Memphis Grizzlies at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Here’s why.
Marc Gasol has been the best player on the Grizzlies in this young season. In his first five games, he showed a propensity for getting to the line and taking care of the basketball. His 5.6 free throw attempts a game would be a career high. If he keeps it up, he’ll add more offensive credentials to his reputation as among the best defenders in the league. His scoring will be important against Oklahoma. Last season the Thunder tried to limit his passing and force him to score. While Gasol responded with more points and greater efficiency on offense, the strategy still yielded three wins for Oklahoma.
Kevin Martin may be a newcomer, but he seems to fit Oklahoma City well. His trademark scoring efficiency looks just as good in Thunder blue as it did in Houston. His three-point shooting has been blistering, at 51%. But Martin may cool off against the Grizzlies. He struggled in Houston’s three games against Memphis last season, particularly from mid-range, his favorite area of the floor. This season, however, Martin is no longer a primary scoring option and will likely escape the diabolical clutches of Tony Allen, whose attention will be focused on that other Kevin on the Thunder. If Allen slows down Kevin Durant, Martin’s contribution could be key.
What to watch for:
The Thunder won three hard-fought games against Memphis last season by keeping the Grizzlies out of the paint and stopping them from scoring when they got there. They forced the Grizzlies into a lot of three-point attempts, and Memphis shot just 26.3% in their matchups with Oklahoma last year. However, Memphis did not have the services of a fully healthy Zach Randolph for most of those games. Randolph’s touch has been off, but the Thunder have to respect him around the basket, especially on the offensive glass, where he’s an absolute bully. Hopefully for Memphis Randolph’s presence tilts their offense closer to the paint, because they won’t beat the Thunder in a three-point shootout.
The Grizzlies will also have to keep the Thunder off the line. Oklahoma averaged almost 32 free throw attempts a game in their four games against Memphis. The Thunder are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the league, second only to the Toronto Raptors this season. Tony Allen, while he is among the most physical wing defenders in the league, is also one of the more foul-prone players in the Grizzlies. That plays right into the hands of the Thunder. It’s a tall, tall task trying to defend Kevin Durant without fouling, but the alternative is sending him to the line, where he really is unstoppable.
Why else should I watch?
To see whether the collisions between Zach Randolph and Kendrick Perkins can produce the Higgs boson particle.
Also, Kevin Durant.
How to watch:
ESPN, 8 p.m. eastern time, Wednesday.
League Pass bonus game:
New York Knicks at San Antonio Spurs, 8:30 p.m. eastern time, Thursday. If the Knicks are still undefeated after this game, I might ascend into heaven. Either way, look out for hysterical tweets from me.